Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kermit the Frog’s Guide to Introspection

It’s not that easy bein’ green.” – Kermit the Frog

No, Kermit, it isn’t easy. Long before starting Beyond Junk, I've often contemplated the reasons that reusing, recycling, and buying handmade goods from independent artists are important to me. Once I realized that it would be a huge commitment to be ‘green’ and to stay ‘small’ I wanted to fully understand my motivations.

At the heart of it, I think my rationale is fairly basic. I want the world to be happier, healthier, and cleaner. I want to support other small businesses and independent artists. To live these values, I make small decisions every day that, to the best of my ability, fit within my idea of doing the right thing.

I buy second hand or upcycled clothes and furniture. I donate items I no longer need. I choose organic products whenever I can. I aim for a smaller carbon footprint when I travel, using public transportation if possible. I conserve electricity and try to waste as little as possible in general.

Tied into these decisions is the motivation for making upcycled jewellery and providing other artists with recycled supplies. As an artist, an environmentally friendly lifestyle would naturally seep into my work. But if I look harder, it’s something more than altruistic green-ness.

I see a world where, in spite of technology and achievement, life is getting harder. Our days are longer and more stressful. Many communities are becoming more economically polarized and many of us in our 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are inheriting a cost of living that has skyrocketed while wages have not.

I can’t separate my motivations for what I make and create. I have both a desire to do no harm to a planet I deeply value, and a desire to protect myself from the emptiness of excess and the crippling debt of unchecked consumerism.

One day, if it’s viable, I would embrace the opportunity to earn a living with some combination of my shops and writing. At the moment, I work full-time, in addition to maintaining my two Etsy shops and continuing to write fiction. I’m not sorry for this – in fact, I find it empowering.

So now that the Internet makes it possible to act on your dreams and ideas, on a small scale, on your own time, it’s virtually irresistible to at least dabble in self employment. I’ve noticed a lot of people feel the same way.
People who study society have credited the economy with encouraging people to cut back and make things themselves. Ask most crafters, though, and you’ll be told that a lot of the rise in the popularity of arts and crafts is thanks to the Internet.
Are most of these new crafters hobbyists? Or are they all starting small businesses? And I wonder, would it be viable for everyone who wants a small artisan business to have one and earn a successful living with it? From a business perspective, I’m sure the answer is no. But will we start looking at these issues more from an environmental point of view?

With so many economies relying on mass production, what will we replace it with? If we learn to consume less, what will we do instead? If we appreciate handmade over mega brands, what would life look like for us all?

These are big questions and I don't have complete answers. I think the most important choice is to start walking in the right direction and hope that the path stabilizes as we go.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crafty Profiles: Gail's Creations

It's time for a brand new Crafty Profile! And I'm excited to introduce you to Abigail Southworth from Gail's Creations. She's an amazing artist after my own heart - specializing in upcycling electronic parts. She's based in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

And to celebrate her first showcase, she's having a sale tomorrow, January 21st!

Shop: Gail's Creations
Goods: upcycled jewelry and accessories enjoy using parts from salvaged electronics
Beyond Junk:
How did you get started as a crafter? And what sparked your interest in recycling and working with salvaged electronics?

Gail's Creations:
Getting into crafting was this sort of strange evolution for me. I transformed from a fresh college graduate to a full-time interactive designer who moonlights as a crafter in a relatively short amount of time. While the interactive design element was expected, I never saw myself as patient enough for crafting.

What really got me into it was when I was looking for a gift for my elder sister, and ended up doing a some trades with steampunk and cyberpunk artists, Northwyke Creations and (of course!) Sleepless Storyteller. I started researching steampunk and cyberpunk more and more, and got it in my head that I could somehow create one such piece. The rest is a midly clumsy history of failed attemps and successes.

When I decided to take up crafting, it never occurred to me to not work with recycled materials. Upcycling, trashion and repurposing seemed like such an obvious path to me, and I love the aesthetic. Add in my love for technology, and combining the two seemed like such a natural evolution that I never gave it a second thought.

Beyond Junk:
What inspired you to open an online store?

Gail's Creations:
Etsy was what got me into crafting, so opening a shop of my own seemed like the most obvious step for me when it seemed like what I was making was sellable. As an interactive designer, I know the costs and time necessary to keep your own hosted online store open, so I can appreciate how much of a springboard Etsy can be - it costs relatively little, and makes updating significantly easier. I anticipate eventually opening a website for my work, but will most likely still handle all transactions through Etsy.

Beyond Junk:
Do you see your work as being environmentally friendly? If so, how?

Gail's Creations:
Yes, and no. Using broken electronics and recycled jewelry means i'm taking away what would be sent to the landfill and not using manufactured supplies that use our already limited resources, but I'm always looking forward to what else I can do to make my process more seemlessly environment-minded. While my electronics are repurposed, a lot of my findings are not, which is something I hope to remedy in the future. I'm constantly critiquing my own methods to find more green ways of doing things.

Beyond Junk:
Tell us a bit about your plans for Gail's Creations.

Gail's Creations:
Now that I feel confident enough in what i'm creating, I feel ready to try new things! New materials, such as more natural elements and more recycled elements such as plarn and plastic bottle beads will be making an appearance soon. I've been learning how to integrate my illustration background more and more, so expect to see more graphical elements in the future.

Here are just a few items from Gail's Creations:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Recycled Glass Beads

I’m excited to add recycled glass Anatolian (Turkish) beads to the selection of supplies at Beyond Junk. These imported handmade beads have been expertly melted, coloured, and formed. I have both translucent and opaque varieties.

Glass beads make lovely accents, to bring out the colour of a pendant. Or string together several sizes to create a focal point. Look for assorted sizes, colours, and swirls in cheerio and barrel shapes.

Here’s a useful link on working with eyelet pins, to add glass beads to lengths of chain:

For stringing beads, here’s another link on finishing cotton, satin, and leather cord:
If working with recycled or sustainable supplies is important to you, I highly recommend these eye-catching beads.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How to Make Watch Face Pendants

The dreary days of January and afternoons indoors are the perfect time for crafting. To get you going, I've got another handy how-to pdf ready.

This one is for a watch face pendant to go with those funky quartz earrings. To view the pdf - click HERE - or use the navigation above.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Crafty Profiles: dadadreams

Happy New Year everyone! To celebrate, I've got another profile of another wonderful Etsy artist, Michelle Lanter. Based in Houston, Texas, her shop dadadreams features original collage art, ACEOs, mixed media assemblage, and jewellery.

Shop: dadadreams
Goods: vintage-inspired mixed media and jewellery
Beyond Junk:
How did you get started as a crafter? And what sparked your interest in vintage items and comics?

Crafting has always been a part of who I am. I’ve been crafting for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my mom was always working on decoupage, crochet or some new project. I started out as her assistant; when I was old enough, I started working on my own projects.

I love collecting vintage paper ephemera because of the stories that it holds. The comic book that was once loved by a little boy can now be turned into a necklace that is worn by his wife or daughter. Taking an old image and placing it in a different context and creating a new meaning for it is a lot of fun for me, too.

Beyond Junk:
What inspired you to open an online store?

Self-preservation. I had made so many pieces, I was running out of room on my shelves and walls. Rather than buying a new home for me, I decided to open a store to find new homes for my pieces. I love to hear stories from my customers about how a particular piece fits into their home or lifestyle.

Beyond Junk:
Do you see your work as being environmentally friendly? If so, how?

Yes, I think so. The images I use in my collages and mixed media pieces come from books and magazines that have been damaged and were going to be thrown away. I use as much of the book/magazine as I can (images, covers, text, ads) and I sell or recycle the rest. I also see what I do as preserving part of our past, since many of the vintage images that I save would probably have been off to the landfill and lost forever.

Beyond Junk:
Tell us a bit about your plans for dadadreams.

I plan to keep rescuing paper ephemera and giving it new life, a new home, and a new story to tell.
Keep reading about Michelle on her blog at Here are just a few items from dadadreams: